With summer in full swing it is natural to think about seafood after the heavier sauces, soups and stews of the winter months. Although there are plenty of fresh markets and fishmongers in Rome, many people are intimidated by the idea of cooking fish, and shellfish in particular, but actually it is easier than you think. A good place to start is with a quick and delicious dish of Spaghetti alle vongole. Spaghetti alle vongole, or spaghetti with clams, is originally a Neopolitan dish and is very popular all throughout the Campania region. However it has been adopted by many Roman restaurants as one of the staple fish-based ‘primi piatti’. It is very easy and cheap to make, and the light, fresh flavours make it a great meal when temperatures start to rise.
Usually Spaghetti alle vongole is made with vongole veraci which are plumper and larger than the smaller clams called lupini. However, lupini can be more flavoursome so either type will work for this recipe. A good tip to avoid ruining your dinner with sandy clams is to throw them one at a time into the kitchen sink before you rinse them; generally the ones with sand inside will open so you can discard them before you begin. There are three main versions of the sauce.
The simplest way is to make it ‘bianco’ just using the main ingredients of oil, garlic, chili, parsley and clams with a dash of white wine. There is also a ‘rosso’ version which involves adding the clams to a tomato sauce, but often this can cover the delicate flavour of the shellfish. The third way, and the one below, is to use just a few cherry tomatoes which add a little sweetness to counterbalance the saltiness of the clams and the spicy kick of chili.
Spaghetti alle vongole (serves 2) 650g clams (rinsed under cold running water and the open ones discarded) 200g spaghetti (or linguini) 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped 1 or 2 red chilis, finely chopped 6 cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters Half a glass of white wine Extra virgin olive oil Handful parsley, chopped What to do: Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil and begin to cook the spaghetti. Meanwhile heat a large frying pan with a little oil and add the clams and half a glass of white wine. Turn up the heat and cover with a lid. As soon as the clams open (about 1 minute) take the pan off the heat and separate the clams from the juices created. Strain the cooking juice sin a sieve and set aside.
Remove about half the clams from their shells and leave the other half with the shells on. Add another splash olive oil to the frying pan, add the chopped garlic and chili and heat gently. As soon as the garlic begins to soften add the strained clam juice, cherry tomatoes and half the chopped parsley. Turn up the heat and reduce for about 1 minute until the sauce is almost creamy. Add the clams, cook for 15 seconds or so and then add the cooked spaghetti and mix well. Serve with a sprinkle of parsley.